The Veil over the U.S. Supreme Court

In Cleveland, puppets are being used by a TV station to reenact excerpts from a political corruption trial that is closed to the public … Why not have puppets reenact  U.S. Supreme Court hearings?  Big Bird could play Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Abbie Cadabby could play Elena Kagen. PGB

 

Our society is increasingly divided between the “haves” and the “have nots,” with the vast majority of Americans now strongly disapproving of the way that government is operating.

The President and the U.S. Congress receive much of the blame because they are seen fumbling in prime-time under glare of the television spotlight. But there is another equally or even more powerful branch of government that manages to stay out of the spotlight – the judiciary, led by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you think that corporations have disproportionate influence in American government, you need only look to the Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), holding that corporate funding of “independent” political broadcasts in elections is protected speech under the First Amendment. That ruling alone has spurred a tsunami of money into partisan election politics from corporations seeking to advance their interests.

Most people today “watch” their news on television or the Internet. Refusing to be televised is akin to insisting in 1440 that the bible be penned in ink by monks, longhand, rather than printed on the newfangled Gutenberg printing press. However, federal judges are elected for life and if they don’t want to be televised then who’s going to make them?

Now the Court is getting another opportunity to affect the balance of interests between corporate America and the average American. The Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law, which is being challenged by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.

A recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that 72% of the people surveyed think the Court should allow cameras to televise oral arguments on the health care law, which are scheduled to be held in March.

Courts in the United States generally are unsympathetic to issues surrounding workplace abuse and unfair dismissal,  especially when compared to courts in many other industrialized societies.  Last summer, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to certify a class action involving 1.5 million workers at Walmart who allege sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The Court’s ruling will have an enormous  impact upon the ability of workers to secure fair treatment in the workplace.

Unfortunately, most non-union workers are clueless about how few  protections they really have until  they are escorted from the building with their possessions in a cardboard box.  Televising the proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court is important to the goal of having an informed and educated public. Or is that what the Court is afraid of?

What about Walmart?

Note: Gillane was sentenced to 96 years in prison on 12/14/11.

A jury this week found John Gillane, 46, the Walmart employee who shot and wounded three of his supervisors last year, guilty of seven felony counts, including two counts of attempted murder with a deadly weapon.

But what about Walmart? Does this incident say anything about the employment practices of America’s largest retail chain? Or was it just a fluke involving an unstable employee?

A nine-year Wal-Mart employee, Gillane told police that Walmart was opening a new store that was causing a cut-back in employee hours and his medical insurance costs had increased. He said he believed one of the supervisors he shot, Eric Hill, gave him a bad evaluation and thought it wasn’t fair because Hill didn’t know him well.

According to the Reno Gazette Journal, Gillane told police he was tired of being mistreated and wanted to “get even and embarrass Walmart.”

Interestingly, after the October 29, 2010 shooting, the victims reportedly said Gillane was well liked, had no work issues, and they were unaware that he disliked them.  The three have recovered from their physical injuries but testified they still feel pain and emotional distress from the incident.

In a taped interview with police, Gillane said he decided the night before that he was going to confront the managers. “Was I disgruntled? —- yeah, I was disgruntled. I was going to take on Goliath,” he said.

He went to Walmart at 7:15 a.m. with two guns and purchased a box of ammo. He hid in a bathroom stall and loaded a gun and waited.

Gillane said he went to the office of manager Richard Sanders, passing several employees whom he did not shoot. He said he displayed the gun and told  Sanders to call the other managers into Sander’s office. He planned to tell them to call  the corporate level at Walmart Stores Inc.  so he could “go over all this stuff, how they’re crapping on us. I knew I was going to get fired. Then everything went wrong.”

Gillane said he panicked when Sanders bolted.

Prosecutors portrayed Gillane as a ticking time bomb who was frustrated with life and intended to kill the supervisors and go out in a “blaze of glory.”

Clearly, Gillane’s problems were much larger than the superstore. He was broke, had recently been evicted, and was upset that two wives had left him for other women, and he rarely got to see his 5-year-old daughter. Gillane had threatened to commit suicide two weeks prior to the incident.

Gillane was also convicted of three counts of battery with a deadly weapon causing substantial bodily harm, assault with a deadly weapon and carrying a concealed weapon.  After deliberating more than seven hours, jurors failed to reach a decision on whether he intended to kill the first manager he shot, Sanders, whom he reportedly hated the most.

There is a long history in the United States of disgruntled employees taking up arms and shooting supervisors and co-workers.  A series of shootings by postal employees in the 1980s led to the term, “Going postal.”

In a 2000 report, a commission empaneled to investigate violence at the post office recommended that  USPS management, unions, and management associations overhaul the dispute resolution processes, which was a significant source of frustration and tension for employees and managers, and boost pay for non-management personnel.

Wal-Mart employs about one percent of the U.S. population and earns profits of more than $15 billion a year. The New York Times has reported that starting in 2012 all future part-time Wal-Mart employees who work less than 24 hours a week on average will no longer qualify for health insurance plans, and Wal-Mart is cutting its contributions to employees’ health savings accounts by 50 percent. Premiums for Wal-Mart employees are expected to increase from 17 to 61 percent.

A few years ago, Walmart expanded coverage for employees and their families after facing criticism that many of its 1.4 million U.S. workers could not afford or did not qualify for coverage — rendering  them eligible for Medicaid.